Rachel Etim was in seventh grade and playing volleyball in middle school when she first noticed Kassidy Means.
Etim watched Means, then in fifth grade, show skills and ferocity beyond her years.
“Oh, yeah, I knew she was going to be good,” Etim said. “It was her attitude. It was the way she played and the way she put herself out there.”
Six years later, Means burst onto the girls volleyball scene as a freshman in 2020 and helped lead the Bulldogs to their first Berks League championship and a runner-up finish in the District 3 Class 4A playoffs.
A 6-0 middle blocker, she was voted the county Player of the Year and selected to the District 3 Class 4A all-star team and to the All-State Class 4A team.
“Once I got to high school it finally clicked that I had a real chance at this,” Means said. “Coach Denny (Werner) would come up to me during middle school and acknowledge me. That was a real honor to have the high school coach come down and talk to me.
“I knew once I got here last year that it would be the year for me to show everyone that I could do this, even as a freshman.”
Means and the return of several regulars from last season make Wilson the team to beat in Berks I and the league. The Bulldogs will be challenged by Exeter, Twin Valley, Berks Catholic and Fleetwood.
“There’s definitely pressure on us, for sure, but I think we’ll be able to deal with it,” said sophomore setter Cameryn Niedrowski. “We’re all comfortable with each other. We’re still just as solid as we were last year. We’re going to get better and better as the season goes on.”
Niedrowski and Means played leading roles in the Bulldogs snapping a 13-year losing streak against Exeter and then sweeping the Eagles in the county final and ending their four-year reign as champs.
Wilson went on to reach the district final against Hempfield, which won the title in four sets. The Bulldogs would like nothing better than to be first this season.
“I know Coach Denny has really high goals,” Means said. “I hope our team can work together and get to where we want to be. We definitely want to win counties and districts and make it to states.
“I feel like we can do that as long as we put in the work.”
Means has spent much of the last year working out at Berks Elite Training, where she’s increased the power on her mighty swing and improved her leg strength. She’s trying to add inches to her vertical leap to make herself a more intriguing Division I prospect.
“What’s her ceiling?” Werner said. “It’s all going to depend on her vertical leap. That’s the biggest feedback she’s been getting from people who have looked at her video.
“She has the skills. She has as good an arm as anybody her age in the country. Her vertical leap will determine how far she goes.”
Means dominated the league championship match with 12 kills, six digs, one block and one ace. In three District 3 matches, she had 39 kills, 31 digs, seven blocks and nine aces.
Regarded by her friends and teammates as happy and bubbly, she’s extremely competitive on the court and does not hide her emotions whether they’re positive or negative.
“She’s grown a lot,” said Etim, a senior. “She’s able to control the ball. She’s able to control herself on the court. I know she’s going to do a lot better this year. She’s really good right now, but she has room to grow.”
Kelley Means, Kassidy’s mother, played in high school and at Penn State Berks. She convinced her only child to play volleyball in third grade. Kassidy’s father, Scott, also played in high school.
“My mom was a big factor,” Means said. “She played volleyball throughout her life. She said, ‘You can try it to see if you like it.’ Obviously I like it. Things are going good.”
Means will be part of a Wilson team that has tremendous size, including 6-3 Airyanna Kline, 6-1 Maci Timochenko, 6-0 Bintu Sissoho and the 5-8 Etim, who could jump as high as any of her teammates.
Means, however, will be the central figure and yet someone who’s still developing her game.
“She’s exponentially better than she was last year because of her experience and confidence,” Werner said. “Last year she thought of herself as just a young player at first. By the end of the year, she thought of herself as one of the better players regardless of who we played.
“It’s different this year. She has pressure on her. She’s going to have to work twice as hard now. She’s not going to surprise anybody.”
Top BCIAA girls volleyball returners
All-Berks: Kate Barbon, Berks Catholic; Maddie Forry, Exeter; Emma Lessick, Twin Valley; Kassidy Means, Wilson.
All-division: Jenna Gehris, Exeter; Alyssa Green, Twin Valley; Cameryn Niedrowski, Wilson; Saniya Odom, Exeter; Elizabeth Fernandez, Berks Catholic; Sara Moyer, Brandywine Heights; Mara Nagle, Schuylkill Valley; Emily Shirk, Wyomissing.
Source: Berkshire mont